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the devil
Johannes Mahlknecht

Hello Jonathan, and thanks for your post. It really reminds me of what Vincenz Hediger once said at a conference in Innsbruck about trailers in general; that they’re so great because they “spare you the trouble of watching the whole movie” (I’m sure I’m misquoting here, but that was the gist of it). His case in point, I think, was “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (why not just “Rambo: Second Blood”?), which by the way I still think isn’t quite as terrible as everybody says it is. I any case I believe that especially within the realm of Hollywood entertainment, where generic streamlining of products is still very much the done thing, trailers are wonderful tools to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Even if I want to think that I’m not one of those superficial persons who judge a book by its cover (or film by its trailer) - how often do I find myself thinking after watching only half a trailer: “Okay, seen that movie, next please!”? So what I’m particularly interested in in connection to paratexts in film is to observe how much text paratexts can actually contain, and how much information they can transport in combination (say, poster taglines + poster image + 3 or more trailers + promo clip = the movie?). I wouldn’t say that the paratext IS the text (although in spoof trailers such as my “Minesweeper” example that idea is kind of the point, and I agree that in your example it definitely SHOULD be), but with ever more and ever longer trailers for individual films being released, we may well be getting there…

Taylor Nygaard

Thanks for your comments Erik and for finding these gems as examples of my point!

With this analysis, I’m building off of the work of Angela McRobbie who has described a tendency towards “post-feminist irony” in contemporary advertisements as a form of preemptive critique that forestalls any negative “feminist” reaction. As she suggests, ads do this by, in a way, winking and saying, “we know its sexist, but that’s the point.” As a result, in order to feel “in on the joke” girls are encouraged to “laugh it off” in order not to seem stodgy or humorless. I see these parodic ads “without texts” as both preempting critique “because there’s nothing really to critique”, but also displacing or distracting from the often troubling targets of ridicule.

I appreciate you bringing up the concept of “perpetual liminality” in response to Johannes’s post yesterday. I think it is important to keep interrogating what’s happening in these moments of ambiguity or uncertainty and where meaning may be getting displaced in that liminality, particularly when the goal of a paratext is to ridicule or undermine.

Erik Clabaugh

Hi Taylor,

Great post! I think you are on to something here.

After reading your insights, I decided to head over to YouTube and check out some of the user comments to see how viewers are reacting to the video. Almost immediately, I came across this exchange:

derfanddarf1 1 month ago

Uhhh no. This is incredibly unappreciative of great indie movies. Plus, Beasts of the Southern Wild is flippin’ awesome.

Wunderphil 1 month ago

+derfanddarf1 Yeah, this was such a disgrace and insulting(sarcasm). I watched some of these sundance films some terrible but some good also, and this is poking some fun isn’t specifically attacking a single film and calling it shit. Don’t take things to seriously.

It is interesting to note how Wunderphil’s defense of the clip articulates precisely the kind of logic that gives rise to your concerns. Because the clip does not spoof any one specific text, viewers like derfanddarf1 (where do people get these screen names???) and others who might want to “push back” by offering a critique of the clip are derided for taking things “to [sic] seriously.”

Taylor Nygaard

Thanks for your post Johannes. I explore very similar terrain in my post for tomorrow (analyzing another parody trailer), and I was struck by your phrasing “unwittingly spawned,” because I see these types of trailers as becoming a deliberate tool for pitching or selling a possible franchise, adaptation, or even original content. Despite being a media economy and “legitimate” platform on its own, the web is continually framed as the ultimate “testing ground” for material that can later be made into film or television franchises. You can see it with something like Awkward Black Girl or more specifically with Veronica Mars, when Rob Thomas was asked by Warner Bros. to generate a trailer prior to even the work he did for the kickerstarter campaign. Do you see the producers/viewers of this trailer as conversant in these industry practices or simply spoofing the absurdity of some properties being adapted?

Taylor Nygaard

Thanks for your comment Paul. I really appreciate you bringing up genre here and how this example doesn’t quite fit with the genre parody films that it is referencing with its title. I think what I found troubling about the trailer is exactly that it ridicules and seems exasperated by the fact that Sundance has in someway created its own “genre.” And, while I can sympathize with its critique of pretension and elitism of the institute, I don’t agree with its exasperation of the festival as place for alternative representations of race, class, and gender; the festival continues to be one of the only places championing films exploring race, gender, class, and LGBTQ issues and representations. Yet, through this parody like many of the parodies you mention above, it tends to undermine the support for these types of representations, while distancing itself from the pushback of a direct critique by “not having a text.” I see this as a functioning of parodic paratexts without texts in general.

Paul Benzon

Great post, Taylor. I’m also intrigued by the other intertext for this trailer — as the imagined film’s title suggests, it’s also engaging somehow with “Not Another Teen Movie,” the mashup-esque 2001 parody of (surprise!) the teen movie genre. There’s a wonderful play with rejection suggested by this shared naming — we’re clearly meant to hear and empathize with an imagined exasperated moviegoer groaning each film’s title — as well as some more complex kind of intergeneric negation going on. How exactly are these films not in their respective genres? Because they’re parodies? Because (at least in the case of your example) they don’t actually exist? Perhaps something else altogether.

There’s also a play with genre intertextuality, high/low culture, and imagined audience here as well. In addition to “Not Another Teen Movie,” this trailer’s string of cliches also seems a parody of parodies, specifically the “[Genre] Movie” trend of the last decade or so: “Scary Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Date Movie,” and so on. I haven’t seen most of these, but my sense is that as time has progressed, they’ve become less genre-fixed and more about parodying what’s popular — at my local Redbox I recently noticed “The Hungover Games,” which seems to parody “The Hunger Games,” “The Hangover,” and “Ted,” of all things. Nevertheless, though, your example seems to register so differently, parodying not the mass popular but the cultural and social elite, with all the questions of mode of production, industry, class, race, etc., that that entails — really interesting.

Erik Clabaugh

Hi Johannes, and thanks for this great post! You make a number of interesting points. However, for me, what really stood out was how your clip captures the condition of perpetual liminality that seems to characterize the “paratext without a text” (to the extent we can agree that such a thing exists).

If, returning to Victor Turner, we understand the liminal phase as one of ambiguity and transition, then we might think of the Minesweeper trailer as forever occupying this uncertain terrain. Because there is no Minesweeper film—at least not yet—this clip serves as a kind of threshold to nowhere. Its promise is perpetually unfulfilled.

Consequently, viewers are sent off in a variety of directions in search of ways to resolve this ambiguity. Ellen’s comment above illustrates this quite nicely. With no evident primary text to anchor it, this paratext forces us to grapple with its utility. In doing so, I believe we might (re)discover some of the more nuanced functions all paratexts perform.

Ellen McCracken

Great post, Johannes. I think some of Genette’s other categories of transtextuality are useful for analyzing this fake paratext. You delineate a number of implicit intertexts available for viewers and these all depend on individual cultural “competencies” of various viewers, their recent and far off experiences, etc. Following Genette, you might group some of the implicit allusions you list into his other categories of transtextuality. Metatextuality is when a text comments on another text, sometimes critically, through an implied or explicit allusion. Architextuality is a text’s dialogue with a genre or genres. Hypertextuality is a text’s relationship to a predecessor, the transformation of an antecedent, usually without commentary (G. calls the predecessor the hypotext and the new text the hypertext). The question of residual signification also seems important. Stuart Hall, for example, wrote about the politics of signification whereby a political movement such as the Black struggle in the 1960s succeeded in overpowering the negative significations of the word black: Black is beautiful, black is powerful, etc. So in this fake trailer, where photographic representations of human beings replace the avatars of the game, how is it that viewers don’t cringe when the mines explode? Of course the parody is clear in so many ways, but the visual impact of the explosions might not work so well as humor for viewers with recent experience of realistic war movies, deaths of friends or loved ones, or simply empathy for far-off victims of mine explosions. So, you might want to discuss varying kinds of audience reception to this fake paratext.

Sasha T. Goldberg

Thank you for these reflections on Kohan’s female anti-heroes; certainly she has produced a new realm of leading women that promise more diverse personalities (even when-if reductively witnessed as just ‘crazy’). I do wonder, though, how much ‘crazy’ gets weighted as real or not real within the realm of location, sex appeal, and performative sexuality.

Nancy strides confidently towards her viewers like a smoking gun, backed by a new twist on a Nancy Sinatra soundtrack and very clearly making “direct” eye contact; she may be trespassing in danger, but clearly she appears able to navigate the terrain. Alternately, we meet Piper with a kind of confidence that is quickly proved to be false—or if not false, fragile; only relevant outside of prison in her very white and very comfortable life—and Piper’s transition to “prison-ready” clearly moves her to an increasingly empowered (and powerful?) state. At least in light of the show, this transition is only possible when in an exiled site of crime and punishment, and not at home.

Is the craziness that gets inscribed on each of these characters of equal import, or do the confident Nancy (and Alex) of the shows get a pass on crazy, because of the crazy/sexy/cool appeal? Tropes like “crazy girls are good in bed” of course reverberate; as does the notion that some of the women (Lorna) are just practicing lesbianism until they are released; perhaps instead of “lesbian until graduation” there is “crazy” (both in denial of what ‘counts’ sexually, and in performing prison norms) until released?

OITNB Piper's arrival in prison
Sasha T. Goldberg

Wonderful clips which definitely get right to the heart of outsider and insider status, or perhaps in this context: Outside on the Inside. If justice (and “justice”) is ostensibly built upon the notion of Innocent Until Proven Guilty, there is a power reversal happening in the demonstrated acts of looking that in (media) prison: Even though convicted, the new crop of ladies (and those who would certainly eschew the title) are presumed to be outsiders within the prison code.

When Piper says, “I’m scared that I’m not myself in here and I’m scared that I am. Other people aren’t the scariest part of prison Dina. It’s coming face-to-face with who you really are. because once you’re behind these walls there’s no where to run, even if you could run. The truth catches up with you in here Dina and it’s the truth that’s going to make you her bitch” she perhaps reaches the real heart of darkness that the prison-gaze implies: One must first submit and then acculturate in order to survive; and yet, these survival skills bring out the more base—and perhaps more shrewd—instincts that rest underneath the pastiche of normatively.

Or, as Guns N’ Roses long ago promised: Welcome to the jungle, baby.